Talking About Hard Things

Bruce Reyes Chow book on race

I strongly recommend that everybody – everybody – read Bruce Reyes-Chow’s new book But I Don’t See You As Asian: Curating Conversations About Race.  Picture hundreds of spiritual communities reading this as a One Book-One Church selection.  The conversations would shift our culture.

This book  – the result of a successful Kickstarter  project – is witty, sharp, insightful, and important.  Bruce discloses his and his family’s own experiences as a multiracial family, sharing those many cringe-worthy comments that Good Christian People invariably say.  He points out that all of us are guilty of downplaying our privileges and avoiding difficult conversations.  But there is something urgent about this book.

We need this.  Now.

I work in a city with these demographics according to 2010 census figures:

  • 32% black (including Hispanics), 45% white (31% non Hispanic white + 14% white Hispanics), 5% Asian (including Hispanics), and 3% from two or more races(including Hispanics).
  • The ethnic makeup of the population is 28% Hispanic (of any race) and 72% belong to non Hispanic background (of any race).
  • In 2000, 21.7% of the population was foreign born; of this, 56.3% came from Latin America, 23.1% from Europe, 18.0% from Asia and 2.6% from other parts of the world.  Chicago has the fifth highest foreign-born population in the U.S.

And yet we cannot get enough Spanish-speaking leaders to serve our Spanish-speaking congregations.  We need new African American and African pastors to replace those who retire or move away.  We have a huge population of Assyrian refugees moving here from Iraq but not enough resources to serve them spiritually.

What is preventing us from creating new communities for our neighbors in Chicago – and in cities and towns across the U.S.?  What’s to keep us from supporting new generations of leaders who look more like the city demographics than we do?  Lots of things, but here are a few that come to mind immediately:

  • Distrusting people of other races even/especially in church.  Even in our multicultural congregations without a majority race, there are unspoken tensions. What if our church becomes too white?  We must remain a Korean church!  These Africans will want to change the way we do things.  
  • Insisting that we are all the same.  We are not all the same and that’s not only okay; it’s God’s creative will that we are all different.  It’s a spiritual practice to cross boundaries and love The Other which is something Jesus did every day:  Samaritans, Unclean folks, Syro-Phoenicians, lepers, tax collectors, rich, poor, uneducated, elite.  We are called to connect with people who are not like us.
  • Failing to acknowledge that white is the default race. For now.  Life is easier for us in ways we rarely appreciate.
  • Congratulating ourselves for supporting poor (often minority) peoples, giving from our superior place to “them” and preferring charity at arm’s length over authentic relationships.

Imagine being able to share our misconceptions, fears, and questions about race with each other in safe conversations.  Imagine church being the community where we can learn that and talk about the fact that not all blacks play basketball and not all Asians are good at math.  Imagine being able to talk together about race through the lens of Jesus.

Read this book with me and let’s figure out how to get started.

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One response to “Talking About Hard Things

  1. Got it yesterday and could hardly put it down. Your comments are right on target. As the grandfather of an Asian granddaughter, I am acutely conscious of the insensitivity which some people display – even well meaning, loving Christian sisters and brothers. We need to be sensitized and learn new ways to live together. Yes, Christ is the model!!! What a remarkable gift he is in this regard. (among many others)

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